Behind the Scenes in Provence

Provence Confidential has been blogging about restaurant launches, cooking classes, food festivals, Provençal wines and spirits as well as tradition and folklore since 2008.

I have served as a contributor to:

    

I have also been a guide for:

  

So, if you are planning a trip to Provence or if you simply want to look up past blog posts to see what there is to 'see and do' just enter the subject name into the search bar.

Follow Provence Confidential on Provence Confidential on Twitter Provence Confidential on Pinterest Provence Confidential on Facebook Provence Confidential on Instagram

Gift Giving Season Part 1

images/IMG_0156.JPG

You can keep the Provencal spirit all year by buying gifts online this holiday season. There are dozens of websites offering locally made products that can be shipped anywhere in the world just in time for the holidays.

Here are 5 of my top picks:

Olive wood platters, bowls and serving cutlery www.boisolivier.com

Fleur de Sel and aromatic salts from the Camargue www.laboutiquedusel.com

Bags and accessories made from recycled sails www.lestoilesdularge.com

Pottery, a various assortment in brilliant Provencal colors www.romain-bernex.com

Lavender wands made from locally grown lavender www.fuseauxdelavande.com

 

 

Truffle season kicks off

Truffle season is about to kick off on the weekend of Nov 21st in the town of Richerenches where the price per kilo of this elusive commodity is set for all of France every Saturday morning in the presence of la Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes – the French anti-fraud squad.  Richerenches is the largest truffle market but truffles are sold at many other village markets from November through March as well , including Apt, Carpentras and Rognes. 

If you want to go behind the scenes to find out more about how the coveted fungus grows, you can take a tour of a Provençal truffle plantation with Les Pastras in Cadenet near the Luberon mountains.  You will learn how truffles are cultivated and truffle dogs are trained, hunt for truffles (known as cavage in French) with professional hunters who know all the tricks of the trade. Tours are followed up with a sampling of fresh truffle hors d'oeuvres, Champagne and a tasting of Les Pastras olive and truffle oil. 

Truffle Hunting Tour: Cost: 70€ per person Minimum of 2 people. Weekend tours at flexible hours, weekday tours 4pm. Please book at least one week in advance. Winter season: November 15 – March 15  www.lespastras.com

 

Provence Cooking Classes Part 1

Provence not only offers exceptional cuisine but many of those chefs are so passionate about the local produce they work with that they offer cooking classes. I tried and tasted my way through many classes and here is a selection of some of my favorites:

La Petite Maison de Cucuron

Michelin star chef Eric Sapet offers a journey into Provencal cooking with each of his classes. Eric personally selects each product he works with and he has found the best local purveyors. There is a good chance that one of them will drop in to make a delivery while you are there and you’ll find out more about how the produce is grown and harvested.  Local purveyors will explain the patience and perseverance needed to produce the best of the best. 

Eric lets everyone take part so it isn’t just a cooking demonstration. He is jovial and generous. He will join you for the meal you and your classmates have just prepared. During the spring and summer months you will dine on the terrace shaded by ancient plane trees that overlooks the basin in the heart of the town square or during the fall and winter months you will dine inside the wood paneled dining room with terracotta tile flooring and authentic Provençal furniture. Classes are available on Saturday mornings only.  As have probably already guessed, the classes offered are in keeping with the seasons - so this fall expect to see mushrooms, game and root vegetables. 

Eric started his career at La Tour d’Argent in Paris before returning south to Les Herbes Blanches and then the Moulin de Lourmarin. In 2007 he purchased La Petite Maison where he was awarded a Michelin star two years later. 

Classes from 10 am to 3 pm
70 euros per person including lunch and wine
60 euros per person for guests joining you for lunch
www.lapetitemaisondecucuron.com

Le Miramar - Bouillabaisse

If you want to find out what is behind Marseille’s signature dish this is your chance to do so hands on. Chef Christian Buffa hosts a Bouillabaisse – derived from the words bouillir to boil and baisser to reduce – on the 3rd Thursday of every month. Originally, fisherman prepared the meal for themselves using their unsold fish. Today it is one of the delicacies of the region.

The class begins with a walk-through of the daily fish market to familiarize yourselves with local species used in the making of Bouillabaisse including the tiny rock fish that are cooked whole for the broth. You will chop, peel, stir and sift along with your group of 5 to 8 participants before sitting down to the meal.

Christian attended the Ecole Hoteliere d'Ecully at L'Institut Paul Bocuse before working at Le Moulin de Mougin and l'Amandier. In 2003, at the age of 29, he purchased Miramar in his hometown of Marseille.

Classes from 9:30 am to 2 pm
120 euros per person
70 euros per person for guests joining you for lunch
www.bouillabaisse.com

 

Chestnuts galore

The Var is one of the leading producers of sweet chestnuts in France as is Corsica and the Ardêche. Historically not all regions had access to wheat so chestnuts were ground into flour and served as one of the only sources of carbohydrates. There are innumerable recipes using chestnuts and chestnut flour. And there are also chestnut based beers like La Marrouge from the Var, Pietra from Corsica and Bourganel from the Ardeche. Vendors selling individual portions of roasted chestnuts can be seen in many Provencal towns during the fall and winter months.

The bucolic village of Collobrières nestled in the forest of the Maures mountains has been hosting La Fête de la Châtaigne for 33 years.  It is such a popular event that it runs for the the last 3 Sundays of October. Known for not only its chestnuts but the harvest of cork from the cork oak trees, the windy mountainous ascent to the village is one of the most beautiful drives in all of France. 

Foraging in Provence

The recent rains have provided the perfect conditions needed for mushrooms to grow. You can play it safe and buy them on any market stall or you can take to the woods with other foragers.

The good news is you can have your harvest inspected by local pharmacist who has been trained in mycology (the study of fungi) who will let you know what you can eat and what you MUST not eat.

Or why not hire a guide at  www.provenceoutdoors.com who will provide you with knives and baskets and tell you all about the 10 local varieties you can find in the Luberon hills.

Squash Festivals of Provence

The villages of Rians, Lauris and Rognes all honour the pumpkin and other squash in the autumn. Festivities kick off in Rians on October 10-11th. Several varieties can be purchased in wedges by the kilo to make sweet and creamy soups and gratins at home. There are colourful and oddly shaped ones for sale as fall decorations.

Pumpkin carving contest, best tasting soup contest and most oddly shaped contest await. Great family outing and photo op. If you miss the event this weekend you can go to Rognes on November 8, 2015.

Cutters and Schooners in St. Tropez

On Saturday September 26th the 17th edition of Les Voiles de Saint Tropez kicks off with a selection of the finest traditional and modern yachts in the world. Over 300 sailboats will gather in this exceptional setting to race in the same zone for a week. Among the best known skippers and racers that will be competing in Saint Tropez are Marc Pajot, Bruno Peyron, and Marie Tabarly. This is an opportunity to witness the traditional yachts that are majestical “works of art” as well as new generation boats using cutting edge technology. www.lesvoilesdesaint-tropez.fr

 

Stars in the Cabbage Patch

 

The menus in Provence have always been market inspired. While the menu you order from may not seem extensive, it will always feature locally produced seasonal ingredients. Chefs pride themselves on working in rhythm with the seasons. But some have taken the words from farm-to-table a step further by growing their own fruit and vegetables. Farming does seem like the logical extension of cooking.

Armand Arnal of La Chassagnette (1 Michelin Star) in Sambuc, in the Camargue just south of Arles, not only grows his own fruit and veg but guests are invited to dine on large picnic tables in the heart of the veggie patch. There are over 2 hectares dedicated to growing over 200 varieties and last year they installed greenhouses in order to harvest 4 weeks earlier. Today 80% of the produce served in the restaurant comes from their own harvest. 

Gerard Passedat (3 Michelin Stars) has his own potager (the French word for vegetable garden) at the top of the Fort St. Jean in Marseille that supplies his new restaurant Le Môle with fresh white eggplant, zucchini and fennel – to name but a few. These sun-gorged vegetables enhance the flavours of every dish prepared.

And it seems this trend moved north a while ago where in Paris, Alain Passard’s Arpège (3 Michelin Stars), is entirely self-sufficient in terms of aromatic herbs, vegetables and red fruit. He even has a surplus for those special clients who wanted to receive weekly vegetable boxes from one of his three farms. After harvesting some young leeks in his farm in l'Eure he then prepared them in olive oil, fresh thyme, rosemary and verbena for a delicious and memorable lunch. 

And just this week we learned that the trend is moving further north where 37 year old chef of Noma (2 Michelin Stars), René Redzepi, just announced the closure of his restaurant that will reopen in as an urban farm in 2017. He too wants to adhere more closely to the seasons. 

 

European Heritage Days

Over 17000 monuments in France will be open to the public in the 32nd edition of European Heritage Day know in French as Les Journées du Patrimoine on Sept 19-20th.  Museums and churches will provide guided tours (in French) but private estates, remarkable gardens and private chateaux will also open exceptionally on these two days - for a small fee.

The complete programme is available on the Ministry of Culture and Culture website HERE. There are 6 pdf files for each of the 6 departments of the Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur (PACA) region (Alpes de Hautes Provence, Alpes Maritimes, Bouches du Rhone, Hautes Alpes, Var, Vaucluse) that you can download to select your destinations ahead of time.

My top 2 recommendations are for garden lovers:

Bastide de Romegas – located just outside of Aix-en-Provence (Bouches du Rhone) is set in a pine forest with beautiful bassins and fountains all framed by boxwood and roses. Lovely wells and a tiny chapel are also on the pristine grounds. Bastide de Romegas, 3992 Chemin St. Donnat, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, Open 10am-1pm and 3pm-6pm, 4 euros per person.

Domaine de Rayol – located in Rayol Canadel sur Mer (Var) – is a stunning garden overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The garden features varieties from all over the Mediterraen bassin as well as regions that have similar climates. You’ll see plants and flowers from the Canary Islands, California, Australia, South Africa and Chile that thrive in this location.  Domaine de Rayol, Avenue des Belges, 83820 Rayol sur Mer, Tel : 04 98 04 44 00, www.domainedurayol.org 1 euro per person.

 

 

Les Vendanges Etoilées

The 6th annual “Les Vendanges étoilées” (Harvest of the stars) takes place from September 26-27, 2015. It is a celebration between the public, Chefs of renowned restaurants and Cassis winemakers. 

Twenty seven French chefs are attending the event with a total of 14 Michelin stars. Included among them are 3 exceptional local chefs:

Lionel Levy - L’Alcyone* Intercontinental. Training with world class chefs like Eric Fréchon and Alain Ducasse he settled in Marseille in 1999 where he perfected regional cuisine which earned him his first Michelin star in 2005. Now he is at the helm of the recently refurbished Intercontinental Marseille Hotel-Dieu restaurants. 

Ludovic Turac- Une Table au Sud*. After training in Paris at the Bristol and Guy Savoy, this 27 year old Marseille native returned to his home town and earned a Michelin star making him the youngest of all Michelin Star chefs in 2015. 

Dimitri Droisneau - Villa Madie**. Originally from Normandy he worked at some of the best restaurants in Paris including La Tour d’Argent, Lucas Carton and L’Ambroisie before heading south to La Réserve de Beaulieu in the Cote d’Azur. He then took over La Villa Madie, that overlooks the sea and the Cap Canaille in Cassis, where he earned his second Michelin star in 2014.

You can sign up for the cocktail buffet (Stars & Chefs) on Saturday September 26th at 7:30 pm that will be served under a marquee on the terrace of the Oustau Calendal, overlooking the port of Cassis. It’s the perfect opportunity to taste the best Provence has to offer prepared by renowned chefs and paired with the world-class wines of Cassis. Price per person: € 60 including wine.Sign up

Fairways and Greens in Provence

The fall in the South of France is the ideal season for golf. There are over 40 golf courses to select from so I decided to help narrow the search by visiting and selecting three of the finest courses on offer that also provided accommodations and cuisine true to Provence. 

The Domaine de Manville, set in Les Baux de Provence, is an exquiste country estate with 30 rooms and 9 villas.  This eco-responsible 18-Hole course was designed to blend in with the landscape of olive groves, wild oak and majestical Cyprus trees. The Domaine also offers 5 star luxury hotel accommodations in the beautifully refurbished farm conversion with exceptional landscaping and the best of Provencal tradition.  domainedemanville.

Les Domaines de St. Endreol,  located half way between Aix-en-Provence and Monaco, has a spectacular sun-drenched 18-hole course of international renown. It has splendid views and varied landscapes that is perfect for all levels of play. The Domaine also offers a large choice of accommodation for 1 night or longer in this hidden oasis. st-endreol

The Dolce Fregate Golf Club overlooks the Mediterranean Sea in Saint Cyr sur Mer, between Marseille and Toulon. The resort offers a selection of accommodations from hotel rooms and suites to entire residences. The restaurants onsite offer great Provencal cuisine and exceptional regional wines from Bandol. dolcefregate